Sierra Leone Schools
The team in Sierra Leone have been crossing rivers, sliding along mud tracks and trekking through jungle to reach the most isolated and vulnerable communities that are most in need of education support. Despite the challenges of the terrain, they managed to reach over 200 communities across the country to assess and identify those that will receive education support.
This latest update gives you an overview of the work achieved and still to come, whilst also bringing into focus a few key people and their activities.
Project Activities so Far
The Regional Team Leaders
Introducing George Quaker: a man who brings vast expertise and limitless compassion to his role as one of our Regional Team Leaders. (Click here to watch him in action on our Girls Speak Out programme in 2016).
If you have joined Street Child for one of our Sierra Leone Marathons then you will likely have come across George’s huge smile at the project visits, workshops or cheering you on along the marathon route. As a result, he is a bit of favourite among staff and supporters who have been to Sierra Leone.
George’s main focus for the next few years will be on the communities in his care. Over the past few months, his regional team has been gathering information and building relationships with the communities. Most of the team have been brought up in the area they work, and so they have local insight that is key to this work (as well as helpful for navigating the rest of the team through the jungle paths!).
The information George’s team has been gathering is for the Community Assessments: a mission that took them to the most isolated and vulnerable communities they could find or had heard of through their local contacts.
Each community is assessed according to two key areas: their need for education support, and the potential sustainability of the project. Some of the communities have already been active in setting up a basic space for a school. For example, the photo on the left is of the classroom near Falaba town, where they have built a simple structure and benches to provide a space for the volunteer teacher to conduct lessons. This is the perfect example of the type of initiative and commitment that makes a community school very eligible for receiving further support. Money invested into their education project is more likely to be valued, so that long after Street Child has gone, this school will be sustained by the community.
Here is a sneak peak into the team's trip across the country
(photos courtesy of Roxanne Hargreaves, Programmes Officer for Street Child UK)
Community Assessments - The Results
Each community presents a different set of issues that block the children’s education. As you can imagine, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, and so each school is approached on an individual needs basis, which ultimately lends strength and sustainability to the project.
In the most rural regions, subsistence farming or rock quarrying dominates local life. The children are often needed to support the income of their impoverished families, and so fail to turn up regularly or leave school entirely. Without basic literacy and numeracy, these children remain easy prey for exploitative employers and customers, and their chance to build a better future for themselves is lost.
Even for those children who do manage to attend school, the quality of education is so low that they often struggle to learn anyway. At every school selected the children are failing their NPSEs (National Primary School Exams), which means they cannot progress onto secondary school. A few factors may be the cause: poorly trained teachers, a lack of learning materials, a substandard learning environment, severe overcrowding in the classrooms and sometimes abuse against the children at home that has left them vulnerable and unable to engage with learning.
Getting the children learning and progressing is the essential task at hand. Therefore, Street Child’s approach to each school is based upon a) improving access to and the quality of education and b) getting a step closer to government eligibility, and so ensuring the school’s future. The requisites for a school to be approved for this funding are: a safe structure, at least one qualified teacher, and a WASH structure (Water And Sanitation for Health - aka working toilets and clean water supply).
The essential issues that block one or both of these can be narrowed down into the following:
Teacher competencies: in the most isolated communities, the schools often rely on volunteer teachers who are untrained and often lack basic literacy and numeracy skills themselves. Many will be selected and enrolled onto a 3 year teacher training programme, and all of them will receive coaching support from a Teaching Specialist.
School resources and renovations: most schools are very poorly furnished so that the students have no desks to work at or have no functional blackboard to learn from. Many of them also had inadequate or even unsafe classrooms, where the roof is falling in or the mud structure was prone to disintegrating in the heavy rains.
Community engagement: The Teaching Specialists, along with George and his Senior team, will work closely with the communities to build strong relationships. This is also important for our social workers, who need to know their communities well enough to be able to spot vulnerable children in need of specialised support.
Home support: for many children, the obstacles start at home, where caregivers are unable to provide support. Their caregivers may rely on their child for additional income, or cannot afford the hidden costs involved in going to school, such as uniforms, learning materials and transport to and from school.
The Next Phase
Just this week, the team bought their new motorbikes! These will be used by Teaching Specialists and Social Workers while they are travelling between the schools they look after. The off-road terrain is tough and some schools are barely even accessible by 4x4. Therefore motorbikes are the only (and cheaper!) option.
Now that they are fully mobile, they will be able to implement the next phases of the project:
Now that the needs assessments have been made, the team are shortlisting the schools to support and are planning their strategy to reach all of these schools over the next 2 years. Once the final list has been confirmed I will be able to allocate you to your school in Sierra Leone - you can expect to receive this information in your next update in February!
Construction work begins
In a bid to bring these schools as close to government eligibility as we can, construction will be a major focus for the next phase of this project. In most cases, the team found the classrooms to be extremely over-crowded and far away from being a safe and productive learning environment. In a country that is as hot as it can be rainy, a solid structure with a water-tight roof will ensure the children do not overheat and can still attend school in the rains.
Between January and May 2019, the team will be hitting the ground running on construction to make the most of the dry season. The ground must be completely dry for building and transporting materials to such rural locations, and mud bricks require clear weather to cement sufficiently. Each construction project relies heavily on the community for locally-sourced materials and labour, due to the fact that many of these schools are so difficult to access from the main towns. Vehicles and materials that the communities can’t access or afford, such as zinc sheets for the roof will be sourced from the larger towns.
From the start of the construction project, it is imperative that the Street Child team works closely with the community councils and parents. A community that has ownership over their school will become invested in its future, hence making it a sustainable project. The funding from Street Child is simply an injection of funds to empower the community involved in the school to provide quality education for their children.
This is just the start of this 3 year project, and so there will many more activities to update you on along the way. So stay tuned for your next Quarterly Update!